Why does Ferguson matter?

On the one hand, this should be the shortest post ever: “Because I am human and American.” Done. Hit publish. Walk away.

On the other hand, some people who look like me and have similar backgrounds—white, relatively well off, recipients of rarefied educations — don’t see it that way.

A commenter on Jezebel wrote that we shouldn’t make the story about race, suggesting that doing so made it harder for white people to care about police brutality. Someone on a Facebook thread I started argued that if I was not trying to protect property from looters, I didn’t have a “stake in the game.”

I understand that it’s easier to invest time and emotion in the news stories that obviously affect one’s own life. When bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, when the city where I lived was in lockdown, I felt unable to turn away from the news. The attack felt really close and personal. 

I’ve never been to St. Louis, and I will not have to face this kind of violence, overcome severely lacking schools or warn my children against the police, but I’ve had a hard time looking away from the coverage of Michael Brown’s death and the protests and hurt that followed. Because this story should be personal, too.

I don’t live with the systemic racism that is a large part of this story, so when I turn off the news, I have the privilege of tuning it out.

But that doesn’t mean I should.

We shouldn’t have to narrow the scope of the story in order to solicit outrage, and being white shouldn’t prevent outrage about  racism. We should all have a stake in this game.

Michael Brown’s death drove to the surface a lot of anger about a lot of racial injustices, including but by no means limited to, profiling and police brutality. It exposes my country’s darker side, the demons that we have not conquered, the demons we haven’t even really tried to fight because it’s more comfortable to ignore

Yes: “We.” This should be a problem for everyone.

You don’t have to be the victim to be outraged. Get out of your comfort zone. Exercise empathy muscles. Be outraged because it’s unacceptable, not because it could happen to you.

I am outraged because as a Jew I believe that I cannot ignore the oppression of others just because things have gotten easier for my people and my family over the decades. We are asked to always remember that we were once slaves and to treat others accordingly.

I am outraged because I remember how uncomfortable it was to be told before a school field trip that any misbehavior in the museum would reflect badly on all Jews everywhere, and the way that information about Michael Brown has been handled by the police, by some parts of the media, and by the Internet reminds me that black boys and men carry a burden that is similar but many times heavier.

I am outraged because as a former journalist, I believe that the rights of freedom of press, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and redress of grievances should not be corralled and must be protected even, and especially, when protecting them calls into question structures of power and the status quo. Even when it’s scary or difficult. I agree with the police who believe it is part of their job to protect these rights, not with the police who believe it is their job to defend against them.

I am outraged because as a white person, I automatically benefit from systems, perceptions and stereotypes that hurt others, and I’m not okay with that.

I am outraged because as an American I want to live in a country that lives up to the values enshrined in the Constitution.

I am outraged because I believe that everyone’s life is enriched when everyone has opportunities that allow them to reach their full potential. I believe that the American Dream should not be reserved for those who do not have to overcome poverty or discrimination.

I am outraged because as a human I believe that skin color should not serve as a barrier for entry, that the poor should not be treated as less-than, that failing students should not be dismissed as net losses.

I am outraged because as a human I understand that teenage deaths are tragedies, whatever the cause.

I am outraged because racism even in its most subtle forms should be considered outrageous. Full stop.